New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Wes Welker have been teammates for five complete seasons (2007, 2009-12), have been to two Super Bowls and involved in hundreds of pass plays together, and have both been responsible for making the other look better. With so much time spent together enjoying great amounts of success, a strong bond developing between the two players was inevitable.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Brady publicly proclaimed he would like to see Welker back with the Patriots next season; Welker is a free agent after this season, and there is no guarantee the Patriots will choose to retain him.
Now, the Patriots organization would be well advised to take the desires of their franchise player into account when trying to decide just what to do with Welker. Although it is easy to forget, professional athletes are still human, and as a human, surely Brady would be much happier getting to continue playing with his friend rather than watching him depart and be replaced by someone in whom Brady would have much less confidence.
However, if the Patriots chose to ignore the wishes of Brady and refused to retain the services of Welker for future seasons, the organization's decision would be eminently defensible. Despite still providing value to his quarterback in the 2012 season, Welker had one of his least successful seasons in a Patriots uniform; only the 2010 season when he was returning from a knee injury was worse for Welker on a per-play basis.
Advanced receiving statistics provided by Football Outsiders, which do not include the regular season, rank Welker 19th in DYAR (245) and 30th in DVOA (5.4 percent) among the 88 wide receivers who received at least 50 pass targets during the regular season. While both of those numbers are above-average, Welker's production still represented a steep decline from his usual elite wide receiver numbers where, with the exception of the 2010 season when he was recovering from injury, he never ranked lower than 14th in either category; last season, he ranked 14th in DVOA (20.4 percent).
Without being able to use the excuse of any sort of injury recovery, or that he did not receive as many pass targets this season as past seasons, the Patriots might conceivably wonder just what sort of diminishing returns they will receive from Welker if they continue to keep him on the roster. If Welker can fail in one season to live up to the expectations he helped establish with his superb play in previous seasons, it stands to reason that he could fail even more so next season or the season after that.
What to do with Welker will not be an easy decision for the Patriots to make. On the one hand, the organization can talk itself into keeping him if it makes Brady happy especially since Welker can still be a valuable, if not elite, wide receiver. On the other hand, with his decline in production, the Patriots could easily rationalize that it would be better for the offense if the team went out and tried to secure a younger wide receiver who can be more of a big-play wide receiver.
No matter what the Patriots do, the decision could still be the right one.